Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday Forum - end of progress?

Sometimes I think that I have become an old curmudgeon. No, the image is not me, just how I sometimes feel!

Its partly that so many institutions or ideas have been discredited or at least tarnished, partly because I find myself tired of arguing. The concept of progress is a case in point.

I grew up in a world where the possibility of progress was central to thinking, Yes, it was a world that had experienced two world wars, a great depression and then the risk of nuclear Armageddon. Yet progress, or at least the idea of progress, seemed so real.

As someone interested in history, I knew institutions and indeed civilisations  rose and fell, that the apparent stability that held sometimes for extended periods was in fact ephemeral. I also knew that bad things happened, that barbarism, war, cruelty and prejudice were an integral part of the human condition. I wasn't especially censorious or judgmental about the past, it just was. Of course I had my biases, including some I was not aware of. I certainly had my favourites, but broadly the question of right or wrong passed me by.

In looking at the sweep of history it seemed to me that each conflict, each civilisation to use that word in its broadest sense, left a legacy that continued into later times. Greece and then Rome fell, but their ideas and contributions continued. The Dark Ages as we then called the following period helped lay the basis for the Renaissance which in turn provided a base for subsequent cultural and economic advance including the industrial and agrarian revolutions. The turmoil, constant invasions and wars that marked the history of the British Isles would ultimately result in the emergence of Parliamentary Democracy.

I accept that thsi analysis is fairly superficial and indeed there are issue here that I want to come back to at a later point. For the present, though, I want to pose a simple question: is the concept of progress still relevant? I am still an optimist and would argue that it is, but the case is arguable now in a way that would have seemed inconceivable a few decades ago.


Anonymous said...

I finished a book the other day by Lionel Shriver - The Female of the Species - (aside: one benefit of living in a fairly intelligent small community is the quality of the books they discard, even if old; now where was I, oh yes) and I was so impressed that I looked up her bio, and thus stumbled upon that whole Writers' Festival/cultural appropriation thing - the best of which was covered in The Guardian (Shriver's speech) and The Guardian (Yassmin Abdel-Magied in reply) and The New Yorker ("The New Activism of Liberal Arts Colleges") - which all, in their own way, provided some thoughtful, at times quite contradictory, views on the present roiling we see in things once assumed 'settled' or 'agreed'.

And I bet you think I'm off-topic :)

But the point (or at least, my point) is that we won't see the outcomes, or the effects of the outcomes, of this present unsettled questioning of the status quo until some time has passed.

What we are seeing is the day-to-day "dust" of present shifts and movements in things once assumed settled, and this may/will distort any view of what such movement might "mean" in terms of progress.

Cue Youtube vid of wildebeests on the vast Serengeti; you're riding the third one on the left :)


Jim Belshaw said...

Morning, kvd. There are several wildebeest videos that I found. That was quite pleasant. Was I the one being pulled down or is it just an analogy to my current confusion, the froth of it all?

The Shriver case is actually well taken in terms of your point: "What we are seeing is the day-to-day "dust" of present shifts and movements in things once assumed settled, and this may/will distort any view of what such movement might "mean" in terms of progress."

There is a conflict between my point about progress over time that can only be seen with time and the present way I posed the question.